In November 2004 Amir Taheri, an Iranian long exiled in Paris and now in the United States, wrote a very acute column on the role played by Carter, and Brzezinski (and Andrew Young puts in his own ineffable appearance), in solidifying the hold of Khomeini over Iran.
Here is that column:
'AMERICA CAN'T DO A THING'
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
November 2, 2004
"AMERICANS will certainly have 9/11 in mind when they vote today. But they should keep another date in mind, too — one almost exactly a quarter-century ago: Nov. 4, 1979. A clear path runs to 9/11 from the day of the raid on the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the seizure of American hostages.
The 1979 embassy attack came at a time when the administration of President Jimmy Carter was trying to prop up the new Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
Carter had decided to support Khomeini in the context of the so-called "Green Belt" strategy developed by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. That strategy was based on the assumption that the United States and its allies were unable to contain the Soviet Union, then expanding its zone of influence into Africa, the Indian Ocean region and, through left-leaning regimes, in Latin America. To counter that expanding threat, Brzezinski envisaged the creation of a string of Islamic allies that, for religious and political reasons, would prefer the United States against the "godless" Soviet empire.
The second stage in Brzezinski's grand strategy was to incite the Muslim peoples of the Soviet Union to revolt against Moscow and thus frustrate its global schemes.
The Bzrezinski strategy had been partly inspired by Helene Carrere d'Encausse, who, in her book "The Fragmented Empire," predicted the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a result of revolts by Muslim minorities.
When the Islamic revolution started in Iran, the Carter administration saw it as the confirmation of its assumption that only Islamists could muster enough popular support to provide an alternative to both the existing regime and the pro-Soviet leftist movements.
The Carter administration went out of its way to support the new regime in Tehran. A ban imposed on the sale of arms and materiel to Iran, imposed in 1978, was lifted, and a 1954 presidential "finding" by Dwight Eisenhower was dusted off to reaffirm Washington's commitment to defending Iran against Soviet or other threats.
Also to symbolize support for the mullahs, President Carter initially rejected a visa application for the exiled shah to travel to New York for medical treatment.
Just weeks after the mullahs' regime was formed, Brzezinski traveled to Morocco to meet Mehdi Bazargan, Ayatollah Khomeini's first prime minister. At the meeting, Brzezinski invited the new Iranian regime to enter into a strategic partnership with the United States. Bazargan, concerned that the Iranian left might bid for power against the still wobbly regime of the mullahs, was "ecstatic" about the American offer.
The embassy raid came just days after the Brzezinski-Bazargan meeting in Morocco and, by all accounts, took Khomeini by surprise. It is now clear that leftist groups opposed to rapprochement with the United States had inspired the raid.
Khomeini saw it as a leftist ploy to undermine his authority. He was also concerned about the possibility of the United States taking strong military and political action against his still fragile regime.
Deciding to hedge his bets, the ayatollah played a double game for several days, waiting to gauge the American reaction.
According to his late son Ahmad, who had been asked to coordinate with the embassy-raiders, the ayatollah feared "thunder and lightning" from Washington. But what came, instead, was a series of bland statements by Carter and his aides pleading for the release of the hostages on humanitarian grounds.
Carter's envoy to the United Nations, a certain Andrew Young, described Khomeini as "a 20th-century saint," and begged the ayatollah to show "magnanimity and compassion."
Carter went further by sending a letter to Khomeini.
Written in longhand, it was an appeal from "one believer to a man of God."
Carter's syrupy prose must have amused Khomeini, who preferred a minimalist style with such phrases as "we shall cut off America's hands."
As days passed, with the U.S. diplomats paraded in front of TV cameras blindfolded and threatened with execution, it became increasingly clear that there would be no "thunder and lightning" from Washington. By the end of the first week of the drama (which was to last for 444 days, ending as Ronald Reagan entered the White House), Khomeini's view of America had changed.
Ahmad Khomeini's memoirs echo the surprise that his father, the ayatollah, showed, as the Carter administration behaved "like a headless chicken."
What especially surprised Khomeini was that Cater and his aides, notably Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, rather than condemning the seizure and the treatment of the hostages as a barbarous act, appeared apologetic for unspecified mistakes supposedly committed by the United States and asked for forgiveness and magnanimity.
Once he had concluded that America would not take any meaningful action against his regime, Khomeini took over control of the hostage enterprise and used it to prop up his "anti-imperialist" credentials while outflanking the left.
The surprising show of weakness from Washington also encouraged the mullahs and the hostage-holders to come up with a fresh demand each day. Started as a revolutionary gesture, the episode soon led to a demand for the United States to capture and hand over the shah for trial. When signals came that Washington might actually consider doing so, other demands were advanced. The United States was asked to apologize to Muslim peoples everywhere and, in effect, change its foreign policy to please the ayatollah.
Matters worsened when a military mission to rescue the hostages ended in tragedy in the Iranian desert. The force dispatched by Carter fled under the cover of night, leaving behind the charred bodies of eight of their comrades.
In his memoirs, Ahmad nicely captures the mood of his father, who had expected the Americans to do "something serious," such as threatening to block Iran's oil exports or even firing a few missiles at the ayatollah's neighborhood.
But not only did none of that happen, the Carter administration was plunged into internal feuds as Vance resigned in protest of the rescue attempt.
It was then that Khomeini coined his notorious phrase, "America cannot do a damn thing."
He also ordered that the slogan "Death to America" be inscribed in all official buildings and vehicles. The U.S. flag was to be painted at the entrance of airports, railway stations, ministries, factories, schools, hotels and bazaars so that the faithful could trample it under their feet every day.
The slogan "America cannot do a damn thing" became the basis of all strategies worked out by Islamist militant groups, including those opposed to Khomeini.
That slogan was tested and proved right for almost a quarter of a century. Between Nov. 4, 1979, and 9/11, a total of 671 Americans were held hostage for varying lengths of time in several Muslim countries. Nearly 1,000 Americans were killed, including 241 Marines blown up while sleeping in Beirut in 1983.
For 22 years the United States, under presidents from both parties, behaved in exactly the way that Khomeini predicted. It took countless successive blows, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, without decisive retaliation. That attitude invited, indeed encouraged, more attacks.
The 9/11 tragedy was the denouement of the Nov. 4 attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran."
The shallow machiavellanism of Brzezinski, with his notion that Islam was not to be worried about because it was a "bulwark against Communism" and Muslims could help destroy the Soviet Union (as it turned out, the Soviet Union did not disintegrate, pace Helene Carrere d'Encausse or Alexandre Bennigsen, or especially Zbigniew Brzezinski, but because of the disaffection that extended beyond the highest classes of the intelligentsia, to those who were in the nomenklatura, and whose children often attended school, with the children of those dissidents, in such prestigious places of higher education as the Institut Vostochnykh Yazykov (Institute of Eastern Languages), and of course Reagan's refusal to permanently contemplate mere "co-existence," and the attitude of his administration, had a galvanizing effect on many in Russia. As for Brzezinski's notion that the "Muslim peoples" would rise up against Soviet power -- there was no hint of it, even if some Muslim soldiers did betray their non-Muslim fellow soldiers in the army in Afghanistan. Brzezinski was not slightly wrong about Islam and about Iran -- he was totally, completely wrong. His mind was incapable of managing to think clearly about Islam; he was a child of the Cold War and possessed a fixation on Russia that went beyond any hostility to or fear of Communism.
Carter was, and remains, a sappy-sentimentalist, one who has shown his spots repeatedly, as in his offer to advise Arafat on public-relations, and in his ill-concealed antipathy to Begin, and of course his utter inability to empathize with, or even to understand, what the Israelis face, and what worries them. And part of his sappy sentimentalism was his belief -- far more advanced a case than anything that Bush has presented -- that people "of faith" are necessarily good people. As Taheri notes above, "[w]ritten in longhand, it was an appeal from 'one believer to a man of God.'" Yes, that was Khomeini through and through, for Jimmy Carter: a "man of God."
Andrew Young's description of Khomeini as a "20th-century saint" needs no comment.
These were the people in charge of the government of the United States , from January of 1977 to January 1981, the period when the Shah fell and Khomeini rose, and consolidated his power, and had his Judge Khalkhali start the judicial executions (beginning with prominent Jews and Bahais) and forced through the legislation that mattered to him most – and what came first was the reduction in the age at which girls could be married (or forced to marry), to nine years, on the model of little Aisha.
That was the Carter, that was how he and Brzezinski saw Iran. And neither one has ever shown the slightest embarrassment, expressed the slightest regret, over their colossal series of errors. Nothing Bush has done, stupid and obstinate as he has been in refusing to recognize the ethnic and sectarian fissures within Iraq as useful, as something to be encouraged, has approached what they did, in their four awful years, when the sum total of their accomplishments was to force Israel to turn over, in three tranches, the entire Sinai to Egypt (and to confuse Saint Sadat, or the presumed Saint Sadat, with Egypt), and to let Khomeini, all of whose views had long before been set down by the Ayatollah, but who – Gary Sick? – in the Administration was capable of reading Farsi, or even thinking of getting someone to find out what this Ayatollah was all about – no one did. Yes, and there was one more thing: the oil price rise of 1979, when a leader might have roused the public, might have insisted on a Manhattan Project. Carter put on a sweater, and gave a fireside chat. His conduct of foreign policy was a series of one disaster after another. Yet he continues with his holier-than-thou performances, including that visit to North Korea where he cleared up everything for us, didn’t he? Posterity will not be kind to him, or to the egregious Brzezinski, who deserved him, and whom he deserved.
Excellent commentary. You must have been supernaturally inspired when you wrote that. You have keen insight missing in too many editorials today. Kudos!